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7 Reasons I'm Grateful for My IBD

A year and a half ago, I would never in a million years have imagined writing this article. It was then, over on my blog, I posted “My Open Letter to Crohn’s Disease.” I can remember that at the time of writing it, there was one emotion that seemed to dominate me at the time: hopelessness. I felt completely and utterly hopeless at that moment of pressing the publish button – like I was just trapped in a tunnel with no way out.

Hopelessness was a new emotion for me – previously my response to IBD had been largely anger and frustration. When I was diagnosed, I went through all the classic emotional responses, and anger was one that stayed with me for a long time. I was angry at my body for putting me through this and, even more prominently, I was angry at everybody else who wasn’t going through this but thought they had it bad. The people who moaned about their weight, who moaned about how hard it was on Weight Watchers or who moaned about hangovers after drinking all night. In other words, I was angry at the people around me who were living their lives as usual – as they should be.

Looking back, almost 18 months later, I still don’t really think I ever had that lightbulb moment – a day when I stopped feeling hopeless, stopped feeling angry and started to feel…well, grateful. But with World IBD Day approaching on May 19th and me turning to my laptop to pour out emotion again, I can barely recognize the emotions I used to feel. While I could never really say if my life is truly better with IBD, it seems only right to acknowledge the positives and how this disease has changed my life.

1. I finally realized what was truly important. In my case: my family, my friends, my husband and my dogs. That’s pretty much it if I’m honest. I stopped caring that I didn’t have a million friends or about trying to impress others. I took stock of how lucky I was to have so many people in my life who do care.

2. I changed my career. As a teacher, I was always desperate to contemplate my career prospects and what lay ahead. Yet after my diagnosis, I no longer found myself stressed about the things that once bothered me: marking, the pupils’ progress and being the absolute best. I decided to change to being a part-time supply teacher to allow me to focus on what I did enjoy without the stress of a permanent role. I now do this a few days a week and spend the rest of the time focusing on my writing and nutritional therapy practice (more on that in a moment).

3. I fulfilled my dream of writing a book. I have always loved nothing more than writing but I know I would never in a million years have written a book if it wasn’t for my Crohn’s disease. Despite my passion for it, I never truly believed in myself as a writer until I started my blog, “A Balanced Belly,” and began writing about my journey. This blog later turned into a book (“Managing IBD: A Balanced Approach to Inflammatory Bowel Disease”). You know on Gilmore Girls when Rory writes the story and says it just flows out of her? That’s how I felt about my book. In fact, I don’t quite believe it was a book as it was just me chatting on my laptop for a couple of months. They say every writer has a story in them, and perhaps, in a warped, strange way it took getting diagnosed with this disease to find mine. (Why I couldn’t bloody just write a romance novel, I don’t know!)

4. I changed my relationship with food. Pre-diagnosis I had a very emotional relationship with food: if I was sad, I rewarded myself with junk, even though I knew it made me feel terrible. Post-diagnosis, I decided I wanted to learn about food. Not to find a cure or come off medication, but to find a way to understand what was happening in my body. Three years later I finished my Nutritional Therapy qualification. Understanding how food works has helped me know how to best support my body when in a flare. I still take medication but food makes a massive difference in my overall well-being.

5. I feel valued. The IBD community has been amazingly welcoming and supportive of my blog. Nothing feels better than an email of gratitude or a Tweet saying that my article prompted a reader to contact their doctor or take action. I have always felt strongly that we each have a “purpose” and I feel that in some strange way, this may be mine.

6. I have made some amazing friends. The thought of making friends online seemed an odd prospect before diagnosis. But it’s crazy how the internet can bring you together with fellow fighters. Through social media I have made some amazing friends and met some truly lovely people. You are never alone in this community.

7. I never ever take my health for granted. I still celebrate each week of feeling well and each positive blood test. When you have a chronic condition, you truly make the most of each healthy period: whether it’s a day, a week or hopefully years to come!

I hope those reading this don’t for one second feel I am not accurately portraying the real realities of living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Life is undeniably hard and each week we read of people losing jobs, reacting to meds and dealing with pain. However, we fail to sometimes to talk about the strength and determination that living with this illness gives us. And while I can never say that I prefer life with Crohn’s disease, I am still incredibly grateful for the person it has made me.

Jenna

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Thinkstock photo via diego_cervo.